COLLEGE PARK — In their quest to attain a Class 3A state title, the Huntingtown High School volleyball team realized it would have to battle through some adversity as evidenced by its five-set victory over Baltimore Polytechnic in the 3A South Region final on Nov. 10.
Wednesday evening in the second 3A state semifinal at the University of Maryland’s Ritchie Coliseum, Huntingtown won the first two sets against Bel Air of Harford County but eventually fell in five sets, 25-16, 25-22, 17-25, 25-27, 13-15. It was a difficult end to what had been a very rewarding and promising season for the senior-laden Hurricanes.
Huntingtown (15-3 overall) won the first two sets as it benefited from a bevy of serve-receive errors by the Bobcats and several prolonged service runs. Reserve Chloe Marlette, who only rotates into serve, reeled off seven straight winners to help the Hurricanes take the first set, 25-16 and she was equally as proficient in the second.
“I really was just looking for a spot rather than a player,” Marlette said of her service runs. “Coach always wants us to force their setter to make plays. I thought we played with a lot of confidence the first two sets.”
Huntingtown head coach Steave Habbert was equally content with the second set as the Hurricanes overcame an early deficit to forge a 21-18, again thanks to a prolonged service run from Marlette. The Hurricanes also benefited from several service errors, the last of which came courtesy of Bobcats libero Radhika Patel which ended the second set.
“Those first two sets our girls did a great job of serving to the seams, but the third and fourth sets we served to their libero,” Habbert said. “The libero is the best passer on the team, so you can’t serve to her. Their height also made a big difference in the end. We played with some doubt. When we play with swagger, like we did the first two games we’re almost impossible to beat.”
Bel Air (17-2) then turned the match around courtesy of correcting its early flaws. The Bobcats serve-receive was much better and enabled setter Olivia Simon to loft the ball to outside hitters Madison Reagan, Megan Hoy and Brooke Myers and occasionally to imposing 6-foot-3 middle hitter McKenna Reiswig.
After running their offense fluidly, Bel Air benefited from long service runs from Hoy, Simon and Julianna Harden and cruised to a 25-17 victory in the third set.
Neither team could ever gain a comfortable lead in the fourth set, but it was the Bobcats who made the most plays in the latter stage of the set and emerged with a 27-25 victory as Sarah Dunphy’s last attack point sailed deep.
“That third and fourth set were able to flip the switch,” Bel Air head coach Elizabeth McCourt said. “Our serve-receives were a lot better and that enabled Olivia to make some great sets to our outside hitters and to our middles. When I took over the program three years ago we had a young group, but I told everyone to watch out. They really made great strides in the last three years.”
As expected, the fifth set provided a number of momentum swings, but players from both teams pointed to the same point in the set as the true pendulum. A brief service run from Huntingtown’s Jenna Catlett lifted the Hurricanes to an 11-8 lead, but Bel Air ended the run when Simon set Erin Kenney for a crucial kill.
“When it was 11-8, we just thought if we could get to 12 first, we would take it,” Huntingtown senior Carter Mulvihill said. “When they got that point and then got the lead back, that was the real difference in the match. We just wanted to get to 12 or any even number first and then we expected to have it.”
Bel Air rallied to draw even at 11 and the teams were tied at 12 and 13 before the Bobcats finally forged ahead for good. With Abby Johnson serving for Huntingtown, Simon set Myers for a sideout point, then with Harden serving for the Bobcats, Simon set Hoy for the match-winning kill off Hurricanes libero Katlynne Palensky.
Bel Air will next face Atholton (20-2) of Howard County in the 3A state title game on Tuesday at Maryland. Despite dropping the first set against Westminster (18-4), the Raiders upended the Owls in four sets in the first 3A state semifinal on Wednesday. That match began 30 minutes later since Atholton arrived belatedly after dealing with immense traffic issues.